G.R. No. 213644, October 15, 2014


The Court resolves to:
(1) GRANT:
(a) petitioners' motion to admit the compact disc containing a soft copy of the petition for review on certiorari;
(b) petitioners' motion for substitution of Annexes "A" and "B" submitting the alleged certified true copies of the assailed Decision dated January 23, 2014 and Resolution dated July 22, 2014; and
(c) petitioners' ex-parte motion to admit compact disc file submitting the compact disc containing the soft copy of said motion for substitution of annexes; and
(2) EXCLUDE the Court of Appeals as respondent from the title of this case pursuant to Section 4(a), Rule 45 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure.
This resolves the petition for review on certiorari[1] filed under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court by Placewell International Services Corporation (Placewell) and Aida Escueta (Escueta) (petitioners) against Arnold C. Pieldad (Pieldad) and Brigido G. Baste, Jr. (Baste) (respondents),[2] to assail the Decision[3] dated January 23, 2014 and Resolution[4] dated July 22, 2014 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. SP No. 04168-MIN.Based on records, Pieldad and Baste were recruited and deployed for overseas employment, particularly to Dammam, Saudi Arabia, through Placewell. Their employment contracts were for a period of two years beginning May 3, 2007. The respondents claimed that, per the employment contracts which they signed with Placewell, Pieldad was hired as a general foreman with a monthly salary of US$500.00, while Baste was hired as a carpenter with a monthly salary of US$320.00. However, when respondents arrived in Saudi Arabia, their foreign employer, Shade Corporation, Ltd. (Shade), required them to execute new employment contracts that provided for reduced salaries. Under the new contracts, Pieldad's salary was reduced to US$360.00 while Baste's salary was reduced to US$170.00.[5] The respondents alleged that they had no choice but to sign the new contracts,[6] considering that they were then already in Saudi Arabia, and had already incurred expenses and loans for their job application and deployment.

Upon their return to the Philippines after their employment contracts' expiration, the respondents filed their complaints for money claims against Placewell and its President, Escueta.

For their defense, the petitioners argued that the respondents completed their contracts without any complaints. The respondents knowingly consented to their salaries as provided in the contracts which they executed in Saudi Arabia. All amounts due to the respondents under these contracts were duly paid, as evidenced by pay slips and the Statements of Final Settlement signed by the respondents before their return to the Philippines.[7]

On March 29, 2009, the Labor Arbiter (LA) rendered his Decision[8] dismissing the respondents' complaint. For the LA, the respondents knowingly and fully acceded to the terms of their employment contracts with Shade. Records also established that the respondents received in full their salaries and benefits as provided in the agreements which they executed with Shade.

Upon appeal, the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) initially reversed the LA decision through a Resolution[9] dated August 31, 2010, and entered a new one ordering Placewell and Shade to jointly and severally pay the respondents' claims. Thus, the dispositive portion of its resolution reads:
WHEREFORE, foregoing premises considered, the appeal is hereby GRANTED and the assailed Decision is hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE. In lieu thereof, a new one is entered ordering and directing respondents Placewell International Services Corporation and Shade Corporation Limited to jointly and severally pay complainants Arnold C. Pieldad and Brigido G. Baste, Jr. their salary and overtime pay differentials in the amounts of US$3,636.90 and US$5,843.89, respectively, or in the aggregate amount of US$9,480.79 or in its equivalent Philippine currency at the time of actual payment plus ten (10%) percent thereof as attorney's fees.

Upon motion filed by the petitioners, however, the NLRC reconsidered its earlier ruling and reinstated the LA decision.[11] The NLRC sustained the petitioners' claim that there was no substitution of contracts, after they submitted copies of the first set of contracts signed by the respondents and which provided the same terms as those in the contracts executed by the respondents with Shade. The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) records on higher salary rates alleged by the respondents were based only on the master employment contract submitted to the POEA by Placewell, but which should not determine the wages that were actually due the respondents once they worked in Saudi Arabia. The NLRC further accepted the petitioners' argument that the respondents' agreement on wages with their foreign employer may be lower than those provided in Placewell's master employment contract submitted to the POEA, provided that their wages would not fall below the minimum wage of foreign workers in Saudi Arabia or those prescribed in the Philippines, pursuant to Section 2(b)(1),[12] Rule I of Part III, POEA Rules.[13]

Dissatisfied, the respondents filed a petition for certiorari with the CA.

The CA granted the petition and reinstated the NLRC Resolution dated August 31, 2010. The appellate court emphasized that the intent of the law is to afford full protection to labor. If the petitioners' stance is sustained, the master employment contract that provided for legally mandated salaries would be merely used as a device to recruit workers, who are deceived and misled for they will later be made to execute contracts that provide for lesser benefits and wages.[14] Moreover, if the contracts signed by the respondents in the Philippines contained the same terms as those executed with Shade, then there should have been no need for the execution of the new contracts. The CA even took note that the two sets of contracts varied in stipulations on overtime pay. Without ruling on the respondents' claim that they were asked to sign the first set of contracts with still unfilled details on wages, the CA emphasized that there should have been no changes on what were originally agreed upon with Placewell.

Hence, the petition for review which assails the CA's acceptance of the petition for certiorari notwithstanding the respondents' failure to file a motion for reconsideration with the NLRC, and its decision to grant the respondents' monetary claims.

The petition is denied for lack of merit.

The CA sufficiently explained that the respondents' immediate recourse to it, without first filing a motion for reconsideration before the NLRC, was justified as an exception to the general requirement on the filing of a motion for reconsideration prior to the institution of a petition under Rule 65, because under the circumstances, a motion for reconsideration would be useless. The NLRC had re-examined and reviewed its disposition of the case when the petitioners filed their own motion for reconsideration of the Resolution dated August 31, 2010.[15]

On the main issue, the CA was correct in granting the respondents' money claims. It was sufficiently explained in the first NLRC resolution that the POEA-approved employment contracts affecting the respondents had better terms than those furnished and implemented by Shade. The NLRC held:

In the present case, [respondents] Pieldad and Baste presented the POEA Official Receipts and POEA's System Generated OFW Informations wherein their supposed monthly basic salary each in the amounts of US$500 and US$320, respectively, are clearly stated. These documents deserve the stature of substantial evidence establishing that, indeed, [petitioner] Placewell, for and in behalf of its foreign principal [Shade], had the [respondents] individually [sign] on 20 April 2007 or before their deployment abroad an employment contract with the stipulation of their monthly basic salaries equal to the afore-said amounts. The rationale behind [this] is not difficult to discern. The entries therein were obviously extracted from the records of the POEA that reasonably supposedly processed and approved the [respondents'] employment contracts. x x x.[16] (Citations omitted)

It was evident that the petitioners furnished the POEA with information that the salaries of Pieldad and Baste would be US$500.00 and US$320.00, respectively. It was immaterial whether such information was taken from a master employment contract or contracts that were individually signed by the respondents. The respondents claimed to have accepted their employment upon Placewell's representation that their salaries would be in these established amounts.

Thus, while contracts allegedly signed by the respondents before deployment, and which provided for same salary rates as those stated in the contracts with Shade, were later presented by the petitioners before the NLRC, they failed to fully justify the petitioners' act of furnishing the POEA with information on higher salary amounts. If the petitioners' denial of any contract substitution is to be believed, then it is clear that they misrepresented to the POEA, and are thus estopped from denying the respondents of the said amounts.

In finding no merit in the petitioners' contentions, the CA also correctly observed:

If the xxx interpretation of the [NLRC] is sustained, it follows that the master employment contract submitted by a recruitment agency to the POEA setting forth therein the compensation of specific types of employment becomes irrelevant and unnecessary because what becomes important is the requirement that the salary or wage of a worker should not be below the minimum wage in the Philippines and in the country where the worker is to be deployed.

But such is not the intent of the law. The full protection to labor will be championed only if the individual employment contracts set forth wage rates equal or higher than [those] stated in the master employment contract, xxx. Otherwise, the master employment contract which provides for legally mandated salaries shall be used merely as a device to recruit workers for overseas employment, only to be deceived and misled later when they execute their respective employment contracts providing for lesser wages. After spending so much time, money and effort to reach this stage in the processing of their deployment abroad, most of these workers are forced to sign the contracts onerous they may be. This practice of recruitment agencies is most deplorable and indubitably contrary to law and public policy.[17] (Citation omitted)

WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED. The Decision dated January 23, 2014 and Resolution dated July 22, 2014 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 04168-MIN are AFFIRMED." (Velasco, Jr., J., on official leave; Peralta and Perlas-Bernabe, JJ., designated Acting Chairperson and Acting Member per Special Order Nos. 1815 and 1816, respectively, both dated October 3, 2014.)

[1] Rollo, pp. 3-12.[2] The Court of Appeals is deleted as a party to the case, pursuant to Section 4, Rule 45 of the Rules of Court.

[3] Penned by Associate Justice Marie Christine Azcarraga-Jacob, with Associate Justices Edgardo T. Lloren and Edward B. Contreras, concurring; rollo, pp. 13-24.

[4] Penned by Associate Justice Edward B. Contreras, with Associate Justices Edgardo T. Lloren and Rafael Antonio M. Santos, concurring; id. at 188.

[5] Id. at 14, 108.

[6] Id. at 108.

[7] Id. at 108-109.

[8] Issued by LA Elmer Ben V. Pasion; id. at 106-112.

[9] Penned by Presiding Commissioner Bario-Rod M. Talon, with Commissioners Proculo T. Sarmen and Dominador B. Medroso, Jr., concurring; id. at 128-134.

[10] Id. at 133.

[11] Id. at 150-157.

[12] Section 2. Documentary Requirements for Verification. The following documents shall be submitted to the POLO for verification.
xx xx

1. Guaranteed wages for regular hours and overtime pay, as appropriate, which shall not be lower than the prescribed minimum wage of the host country, not lower than the appropriate minimum wage standard set forth in the bilateral agreement or international convention duly ratified by the host country and the Philippines or not lower than the minimum wage in the Philippines, whichever is highest; x x x x
[13] Rollo, p. 155.

[14] Id. at 19.

[15] Id. at 17.

[16] Id. at 131.

[17] Id. at 18-19.